As a white woman, I’ve never experienced a racial gap that has prevented me from achieving my dreams or taking part in any activity. Growing up, it was expected I would participate in band, chorus, and all the other activities my friends did.
My parents stressed about the money, but they did enough creative budgeting to make it happen because they recognized the importance of the arts.
But when I became a parent, I realized how fortunate I was as a child. And I’ve given my children more opportunities than I’ve ever had, with tumbling lessons, an instrument to play, trips to museums and more.
I’ve noticed, however, a disturbing trend. White children in predominately white school districts have much greater access to arts education.
The Racial Gap in Arts Education
When schools have financial issues, funding for the arts is often cut, which limits the opportunities for children who would only have these experiences in school.
Between 1982 and 2008, the availability of arts education for Hispanic Americans and African Americans decreased from 47-51 percent to 26-28 percent. There are signs the situation is improving.
Studies by the National Endowment for the Arts from 2012 shows the gap is closing. According to the information they gathered, 75 percent of white students reportedly took music or art classes in school, compared to 70 percent of black students and 56 percent of Hispanic children.
But while the in-school opportunities may be improving, outside of school the gap is a bit bigger. When looking at how many children took music or art classes outside of school, the data showed over 30 percent of white students did, compared to 19 percent of black students and just 10 percent of Hispanic students.
Why It Matters
Some people might mistakenly dismiss the arts as mere entertainment for children or busy work to keep them out of trouble. But there are real benefits for children of all ages.
Your child’s life is going to be full of decisions. Some will be small, but others can be life-altering. Pursuing the arts can improve a child’s decision-making skills.
They have to think, see what happens when they try something that doesn’t work out as well as they’d hoped, and realize there are multiple solutions for any perceived problem in the artistic world.
They might see that their musical skills don’t develop as quickly as their friends if they skip their practice sessions — and that will let them see their decisions have consequences.
Using Visual Information
The world is a more visual place now than it ever has been. With non-stop marketing attempts reaching our children through every media, they need to know how to interpret the information they see in books, television, and online sources.
By dabbling in the arts, children learn how to interpret visual information. And they are comfortable with participating in hands-on learning because they’ve done much of that through drawing, sculpting, and painting.
People who think like the majority of other people aren’t the ones who shape the world. People who think outside the box are. Inventors, scientists, and writers — the people who wondered what if when others accepted established ideas and old ways of doing things — are the ones who have a long-lasting impact on our society and progress.
That’s what the arts can offer a child — the permission and courage to think outside of the box. Once a child learns how to do that, they can be unstoppable.
Being Able to Create the World They Want to See
So much of what a child sees is beyond their control. They see Barbie dolls with their perfect bodies, and often these dolls are blued-eye blondes. They see movies and cartoons featuring characters who look nothing like them.
Although toys and movies are making a much bigger attempt at diversity than in the past, it can still be hard for children to find heroes like them who can serve as inspiration.
But in the art world, they can create them. They can make a drawing featuring a person of any color, hairstyle, eye color, or body type. That can be incredibly empowering for a child.
Higher Chance at Academic Success
There’s no guarantee that if your child takes dance lessons, plays an instrument, or has art instruction that they’ll excel at school. But there is a link between improved academic achievement and participating in the arts.
There is no clear-cut reason for that, but some people chalk it up to the concentration children learn by participating in arts. They have to lock in on what they are doing, and once that habit is learned, they can apply it to the classroom as well.
Including Others and Learning Tolerance
As people, we tend to stick to befriending people who share our interests. Athletes on school teams often socialize together on and off the court. And those in the art world do the same.
Your child will meet people from every walk of life and different ethnicities in art class. Their exposure to people different from them would be increased if the racial gap was fully closed. And every student would benefit from that in the long run.
It would be a better world if people learned to appreciate each other’s differences and the best way to do that is by getting to know each other.
Making Art a Priority
As a busy parent, I’m the first to admit that it isn’t always easy to find the time, money, and resources for my children to be in the arts. But participating in it has greatly enriched their lives.
With more education and a full understanding of how important the arts are, hopefully, schools will continue to make offering the arts a priority. That will give children who wouldn’t be able to participate outside of school a chance to reap the benefits of the arts.
As a parent, you can’t dictate what your school does. But you can let school officials know how important you feel the arts are.